Supreme Court Justices Greet Health Care Law With Skepticism

The fate of President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul will be at syake on Wednesday when the Supreme Court justices consider whether the entire law must fall without its centerpiece insurance mandate.

Hundreds gathered in a park across from the Capitol Tuesday to hear Tea Party and conservative leaders describe a dystopian future that awaits if President Barack Obama's health care reform law is left in place. Photo: SEIU International/Flickr

Wednesday is the last day of The Supreme Court hearings over the future of health care reform with renewed focus on an issue once dismissed by many legal and political analysts as trivial, tells CNN.

On Tuesday the Obama administration faced skeptical questions from the court’s five-member conservative majority on the insurance requirement. But it was unclear whether it would strike it down or let it stand.

According to Los Angeles Times, the legal fate of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law has always turned on winning over the center of the Supreme Court: JusticeAnthony M. Kennedy.

If one of the five conservative Republican appointees joins the four liberal Democratic appointees on the court, the law would be upheld, reports Reuters. But if the five conservatives remain unified, the law would fall.

A ruling on the mandate is likely to come down to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, two conservatives who pummeled the administration’s lawyer with questions.

On Tuesday Kennedy and Roberts, together with fellow conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr., repeatedly questioned where the limit on federal power would be if the mandate was upheld.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the Obama administration’s top lawyer, tried to argue that the insurance mandate would not open the door to other requirements to buy products because healthcare is unique.

“The health care market is characterized by the fact that, aside from the few groups that Congress chose to exempt from the minimum coverage requirement, … virtually everybody else is either in that market or will be in that market,” Verrilli said. “People cannot generally control when they enter that market.”

Chief Justice John Roberts responded to that: “The same, it seems to me, would be true, say, for the market in emergency services: police, fire, ambulance, roadside assistance, whatever.”

According to the law, many of the nearly 20% of individuals in the U.S. who do not have health insurance will have to sign up for a plan starting in 2014 that meets a basic set of standards or pay a tax penalty that will rise from $95 in 2014 to $695 in 2016.

Health policy experts warn that without some incentive to buy insurance, people could wait until they got seriously ill to sign up for coverage, pushing up premiums for everyone.

“The mandate represents an unprecedented effort by Congress to compel individuals to enter commerce in order to better regulate commerce,” Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, said on behalf of the 26 states challenging the mandate.

Clement almost repeated the question by Justice Anthony Kennedy asked in the beginning of Verrilli’s speech, according to The Huff Post.

“Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Kennedy asked.

“Virtually everybody in society is in this market,” said Verrilli.

The Wednesday arguments in The Supreme Court will complete a thorough legal and constitutional review of the law, the most important piece of social legislation in decades.

During each of the three days of arguments, crowds of supporters and opponents have gathered outside, chanting and carrying signs.

“In the future, you see, we will not be electing a president. We will be electing a health care dictator,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told the attendees, who traveled to the Washington event from Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states to proclaim their opposition to the law.

After Wednesday’s third day of arguments, the justices will meet behind closed doors Friday to cast their votes and begin working on opinions.

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